Two Years a Widow: Part I

“What I’ve Learned from Widowhood”

It’s almost unbelievable that it’s been two years since my late husband, Craig Strickland, and his friend, Chase Moreland, passed away in a tragic hunting accident at the end of December. From Dec. 26th to January 12th, each day serves as mile markers that bring about strong feelings and memories.

Dec. 26th: The day Craig left. We laughed as we made up Christmas songs about my cat Salem, and watched the new trailer for the new “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” Harry Potter Movie.

Dec. 27th: I wrote in my prayer journal and asked that God would grow us closer than we’d ever been before this year…and I told Him that I would choose to love Him even if He took everything away – including my husband. This was the day Craig’s father, Randy, and I realized something wasn’t right. This was also the day Craig would have already gone to be with his Heavenly Father.

Dec. 28th: A long icy drive to Ponca City, OK to look for Craig. The realization of fear during a phone conversation with the pastor of my church, Nick Floyd. Nick: “Is it really as bad as it sounds?”; Me: “Yes, it is.” Sam, Craig’s Hunting Dog, was found with a boat and a body. I had to serve as a second identifier for Chase’s body.

Dec. 29th: Friends and Family came to help search. I remember looking out at the icy Kaw Lake Water silently begging Craig to come back. Candle Light Prayers were held by friends and family at CrossChurch (my church)/Shiloh (the school I used to teach at).

Dec. 31st: New Years with my friends in my hotel room. Feeling true thankfulness for them. Pushing away the thought that I wouldn’t see my husband in this new year. Wondering why we had waited to have kids. The first time I quietly pleaded with God to not make this my life.

Jan. 4th: The day we found Craig. I’ll wait to write more about this in my upcoming book.

Between Jan. 5th – 11th: Preparing for Craig’s burial. Emotional. Exhausting. Surreal to be picking out a headstone, resting place, burial clothes, and content of a memorial service.

Jan. 12th: The day I buried my husband…

I’ll write more about January 12th in my book; but for now, I will say that January 12th was the hardest part of the whole experience. It made it real. Seeing his casket at the front of a beautiful chapel full of people…my whole resolve was shaken. It was the first time that I didn’t know if I was going to be able to control myself in front of people. Not that a widow has to, but for some reason, being around people made me want to comfort them during that season. Not because I had to, but God just made me that way I guess. I tend to not break down in front of people, and be a little more private with my grieving. It helps me to help others feel better in difficult moments.

I remember Pastor Nick coming in my waiting room to ask if I was ready.

With every step towards my husband’s casket, I saw the dreams I had for my life fading. And the reality of my life became a lump in my throat that started to harden like a rock.

I remember attending the memorial service that night and making the mental and heartfelt commitment to praise God even now. I would raise my hands to every worship song as I do in church when I praise His name. Because my God is my God in this tragic moment, as He’s my God in the easiest of moments. And I will tell you, raising my hands to praise my Heavenly Father as a grieving widow with a broken heart, was definitely the closest I’ve ever felt to God.

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” -1Thessalonians 5:18

Two years later, I sit and reflect on that day. There is so much to tell. So many thoughts and memories to share. People to thank. But today, I’ve decided I want to talk about a new mile marker.

The day I was able to look back over a course of two years and thank…No… PRAISE God, for the life I’ve been given, and the lessons I’ve learned.

I prayed so many times that this wouldn’t be my life. I asked God to take this cup away from me. I cried out to God and asked Him why he was being silent. But today I’m grateful for not only the beautiful memories I have of my late husband that I can always cherish, but also, the wisdom and the strength I now have due to my daily fight to choose to love God through my circumstances. And I’m even more thankful that I can share with you, what I’ve gleaned from pushing through the worst storm of my life.

“I yelled in the wind. He came rolling back to sweep me off my feet. I cried to the rain. He came pouring down to drown my disbelief.” – God, Relient K

So after reflecting, what lessons have I learned? Well to start, here’s a brief brainstorming list of the first things that came to my head, without a filter. I’m giving myself 2 minutes to list this for you…starting now.

  1. The importance of a strong prayer life.
  2. To appreciate the people around me.
  3. To give up control, as well as ownership over things.
  4. To not rush into things or make major decisions during the first year.
  5. To realize people won’t ever fully understand what I’m going through.
  6. God will understand what I’m going through.
  7. To not expect people to remember that being a widow might hinder me from doing things to the best of my ability even a year after my loss.
  8. To not use being a widow as a crutch. To take ownership of the demands of life and ask God for the strength to push forward and get things done.
  9. The importance of praising God in all circumstances.
  10. Solitude is sometimes necessary. Loneliness is not the same thing as solitude when I’m spending my time alone with God.
  11. To show gratefulness to the people around me.
  12. To have courage.
  13. To do everything like I’m doing it for God, not for man.
  14. To pray boldly.
  15. That friends and family are the greatest blessings God can give us in this life.
  16. To always have a humble and thankful heart.

There are hundreds more, but those are the first that come to mind in 2 minutes. And I just want to say, I’ve not done any of those 16 bullet points perfectly. I say lessons because they were exactly that. Lessons I needed to learn. As many of you probably know, going through any difficult experience is a process. Grief is a process. It will hit you in strange ways at different times. Counseling is a great option that I recommend for everyone going through a difficult experience. But the most important lesson I’ve learned is this: YOU NEED GOD.

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” – Colossians 4:2

God is the only way we can walk through tragic events and come out on the other side a stronger person. God gives us the strength to see the joy that can be found in every day. He’s the only way I was able to make it out of my [excuse my French] Hell Hole alive. And to answer the question that was asked so many times on my social media posts…He’s why I could smile in the pictures I posted during the search for my husband.

How did God do that for me, you ask?

Well friend, I truly believe there is beauty to be found in every moment. But the only way we can see that beauty is if we allow God to cultivate within us, a grateful heart. I’m not the expert on life and happiness, but from my experience – that’s how I did it.

Even during the search for and burial of my late husband Craig, my heart was bursting with love and thankfulness for the people all around me. My friends who were there giving up their time off work to be there for me. A close family friend coming to search with their boat. The President of my School, and my best friends from work driving 4 hours just to hug my neck and turn around. Volunteer search dogs. Support from the people of Ponca City. Gifts from friends from home and all over. People all around the world praying for our search. I could go on and on…

Sitting here thinking of all the people who loved me and helped our family, I am still humbled with gratitude and find myself wishing I could individually thank each person who took the time to help and pray for our family. Everything that everyone did during those first few weeks, and after, was the love of Christ being shown through His people. I couldn’t help but see the love of God in the situation I was in.

Now I realize that my situation may be different than yours. Maybe it seems like no one cares. But friend, there’s always a reason to be thankful. There’s always a reason to praise God. I was talking to a relative of mine the other day, and we started discussing the topic of thankfulness and how it has such a major impact on our relationship with Christ.

I told my relative, “Sometimes I get down driving home at night to an empty house. Knowing my friends have husbands and kids to go home to, and I don’t. But that’s when I have to take those thoughts captive. It’s ok to be sad sometimes – in fact, it’s necessary when we’re grieving, but I refuse to let grief control or consume me for long periods of time. I believe there’s a point that I have to speak God’s truth to my soul to remember life isn’t perfect, but with Christ, it can be beautiful again. Therefore, when my thoughts want to go down that dark tunnel, I remember one important thing. To be thankful. If I’m sad, I make myself think of the smallest, most off-the-wall, seemingly insignificant blessing I can think of that I’ve probably never stopped to thank God for…and then I stop and meditate on that. I think what life would be like if I had to do without whatever it is I’m choosing to be thankful for. For example…one day, I reminded myself to be thankful that I have 10 fingers and 10 toes. I contemplated how difficult many of the activities I like to do would be if I didn’t, and I immediately thanked God that he allowed me to not have to worry about those things.”

“I will extol the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips.” – Psalm 34:1

In saying that, I don’t mean we should just list out all the things we’re thankful we have that other people might not have, instead it’s simply taking on a mindset of acknowledging every blessing we’ve been given. In my experience, a thankful heart is a peaceful heart.

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise Him.” – Psalm 28:7

Dear friend, whatever you’re experiencing, I realize it might be hard to be thankful right now. But my prayer is that you will read my story and see that you can find joy again with the help of Christ. I pray you would trust that God can bring hope and happiness to your life no matter your circumstances…He’s the only one who can.

Praying for you today and always.

Love in Christ,

Helen Elizabeth

{Wednesday, January 17th, I am posting another Blog concerning the lessons I learned from Craig. Hope my words today, and in the future will encourage your heart.}

20 thoughts on “Two Years a Widow: Part I

  1. Kim S. says:

    I look forward to your book. Also, I have thanked God for the things I wake up with, in those times I am down also. I am grateful to hear so I can hear my children,for my sight to see the beautiful sunrise because I know it’s another day I get to see. You are amazing and I even though I do not know you personally, I understand. I’ve had my own losses and somehow know it was God who walked me through the bumpy, icy, thorn-bush ridden road. To get to the other side of that road has been a challenge but I’ve made it out okay. I get my moments also but I know it’s okay because that is my hearts way of healing somewhat. You have been a wonderful, positive inspiration and I am grateful that you share your words of wisdom with all of us. Your Craig is never forgotten.

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  2. S says:

    Your such an inspiration for telling your story and how you are inspired through the word and how it’s helped you. Everyone has in some way been affected by someone they know or love pass away. Although, I can’t relate to having a husband pass, but as someone whose lost their mother, and other relatives in a short period of time at the age of 10, your words speak in volumes. I can wait to hear morw about your book and she it will be available! Keep us posted!

    Like

  3. Wendy Fox says:

    You are amazing to me…. cannot wait to read your book. You are a true inspiration and a true tool of God! I have a friend that just lost her sweet husband, suddenly, with no warning. I will buy her your book and hopefully she will be inspired to turn to God for her comfort. Sending 💕 love

    Like

  4. Damon Morland says:

    Thank you Helen for your words of encouragement. My grief is different than yours because it was my son that God chose to be with Craig . I know that I’m going to see them both again. There is not a single day goes by that I don’t shed a tear for Chase. That’s because I really love and miss him but I smile too because I know he is with my Lord Jesus Christ.
    I can’t put into words as to how much the strength and faith of you and Craig’s family have helped me to get through this.
    I too will be waiting for your book.
    Thank you and God bless you all.

    Like

  5. Kara says:

    Helen, you are incredible and God has used you so many times to speak to me . I cannot fathom your loss and also cannot fathom the depth of your relationship with Christ through it all. Keep on being a light to this world. You are amazing!

    Like

  6. Catherine Leavitt says:

    Thank you Helen, your writings are always encouraging and real. You give me a right perspective; keep my eyes fixed on Jesus no matter what and be thankful always!! Love and prayers for you❤

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  7. Susan Haney. says:

    My heart goes out to you and to the Moreland family for the loss of their son and Craig’s friend. I think you are funding healing through this blog and you are helping your community grow closer to God. You are a blessing to all who know you.

    Like

  8. Sandi Hedinger says:

    Helen, I think and pray for you often as I live in Ponca City. Especially on a bitter, cold day like today. You have been through the worst but I admire you for your strength and faith.
    Hugs and prayers for you and yours

    Like

  9. Sandi says:

    I so needed to read this blog tonight.. it has helped me so much Helen Elizabeth… you have helped me so much.. I hope one day to be as Godly as you.. I am Catholic and can’t figure out how to be like this? I try to talk to him but I drift away? Thank you for this blog..❤️🙏🏻

    Like

    • Helen Elizabeth says:

      I’m so glad my blog could help you, Sandi! I’ll be praying that you can find that closeness that you’re looking for. I know we come from different backgrounds, but I truly believe God wants a true conversational relationship with you! It takes time though, and we all struggle at times with drifting when we sit and talk with God. Don’t be too hard on yourself, just keep coming to Him in prayer!

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  10. Jordan Morrissey says:

    Beautifully said. You’re a true inspiration. Now, i will stop to be more thankful throughout the days for the little things. I teared up reading this. You are amazing and a beautiful soul. Much love to you. I’m so looking forward to your book. Thank you.

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  11. Cathy Endean says:

    Hi- I kinda fell over your blog accidentally, i’m not going to say that it is nice that someone else feels the way I do, but it is encouraging to know that my feelings aren’t completely different, I lost my husband of 25 years on the 15th of April, I married him ,not because I could live with him ,but because I couldn’t live without him, and now I don’t know how to live, or if I actually even want to, I know God has a purpose, I know everything happens for a reason, I just wish it didn’t happen to me quite so often. How do you get over the despair and loneliness . We were 2 halfs of one coin, and one 1/2 is gone . How does the other half carry on without it ? It is a weird situation to be in. I’m now treated and considered a single person, but I’m not, I am a widow, and Half of me is missing . And I can’t understand at the moment why people can’t get that. Perhaps your blog has given me hope! That actually the way I feel is normal and perhaps I could live again . So thanks for sharing that, I do wish you all the best.cathy

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